‘Harlem 100,’ featuring Mwenso and the Shakes, to celebrate cultural mecca Oct. 22
A century ago, in the aftermath of World War I, a predominantly African-American neighborhood in uptown Manhattan emerged as one of the leading cultural centers of the country. “Harlem 100: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance,” which features the nine-member band Mwenso and the Shakes, will bring the sound and spirit of the era to Penn State at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, in Eisenhower Auditorium.
Created in collaboration with the National Jazz Museum, the show will capture the sights and sounds of Harlem when legendary artists such as Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes and Billie Holiday made the neighborhood a cultural mecca.
Featuring the music of Waller, Ellington, Holiday, Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters, “Harlem 100” will celebrate one of the most influential artistic movements of the United States and give insight into Harlem then and now.
Purchase tickets, which are $48 for an adult, $15 for a University Park student, and $38 for a person 18 and younger. A grant from the University Park Student Fee Board makes Penn State student prices possible.
Watch a preview of “Harlem 100.”
Hosted by Wynton Marsalis-mentored bandleader and singer Michael Mwenso, the multimedia presentation will feature Harlem-based musicians and dancers in a modern variety show. It will pay homage to the presentations made famous in the Apollo Theater, the Cotton Club and other celebrated venues of the Harlem Renaissance.
A native of Sierra Leone, Mwenso moved to London as a youngster and by his early teens found himself on stage with soul-music great James Brown. Members of the Shakes come from far-flung places such as South Africa, Madagascar, France, Jamaica and Hawaii.
In addition to Mwenso, “Harlem 100” will feature tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman and vocalists Vuyo Sotashe and Brianna Thomas.
“The music doled out by Mwenso and the Shakes is effusive, overflowing with elements of classical jazz, blues, world music and tap. When played live, this amalgam of ideas and musical references has garnered the spiritual jazz-outfit with a reputation for energetic sets and genre-pushing inventiveness,” noted a writer for allarts.wliw.org.
The band has become popular in New York City, in part, through its late-night sessions in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s intimate Dizzy’s Club.
“Not many bands in the orbit of jazz today can begin to approach the crowd-pleasing threshold of Mwenso and the Shakes,” wrote a WBGO.org reviewer. A Jazziz writer called the band “a unique troupe of global artists presenting music that merges entertainment and artistry.”
“Emergence [The Process of Coming into Being],” the debut album by Mwenso and the Shakes, was released in August.
“Our music has become something that expresses empowering messages of love,” Mwenso said in an interview with BroadwayWorld.com. “The variety of musical styles that is presented here is something we have diligently, as a group, been working on over the last few years. I truly believe there is something for everyone on this album. I want people to listen to ‘Emergence’ like they are in the audience.”
Foxdale Village, A Quaker-Directed Continuing Care Retirement Community, sponsors the performance.
This event is part of the Center for the Performing Arts season focus, “The American Experience: Through an African-American Lens.” Sandra Zaremba and Richard Brown provide support for engagement programming related to this and other season-focus presentations.